A Direct Consolidation Loan combines federal student loans into a single loan with one monthly payment. If you have multiple federal student loans, this could be one way to simplify the repayment process and more easily stay on top of student loan payments. With a Direct Consolidation Loan, you are also eligible for student loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment programs.
A Direct Consolidation Loan, however, doesn’t typically lower your interest rate. Instead, this type of loan is geared toward borrowers who want to streamline their monthly payments or qualify for loan forgiveness, as opposed to borrowers who want to save money on interest.
While consolidation of student loans can lower your monthly payment by extending your repayment timeline, you typically end up paying more overall due to the additional interest you pay when lengthening your loan term. Before you commit, make sure to run the numbers and consider the pros and cons of a Direct Consolidation Loan.
Is a Direct Consolidation Loan a Good Idea?
Deciding if student loan consolidation is right for you depends on whether your desire to simplify your payments outweighs the potential loss of some benefits.
Pros of Direct Consolidation Loans
Can simplify repayment: The first thing to consider is if you currently have multiple federal student loans with different servicers, meaning you have to log in to two or more separate accounts to pay your student loan bills each month. In this instance, consolidation can make life a little easier because the process will give you a single loan with a single bill each month.
Can lower your monthly payments: Consolidation can also lower your monthly payment amount by giving you up to 30 years to repay your loan or by giving you access to income-driven repayment plans. Keep in mind, though, that by extending your loan term and reducing your monthly payment, you will end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan.
Can allow you to switch from a variable to a fixed rate: If you have any variable-rate loans, consolidation will make it so you can switch to a fixed interest rate.
Can make loans eligible for forgiveness: If you consolidate loans other than Direct Loans, such as Perkins Loans (drawn before the program was discontinued), those loans may become eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) once consolidated.
Recommended: Fixed vs. Variable Rate Loans
Cons of Direct Consolidation Loans
Can lead you to make more payments and pay more in interest: When you consolidate your federal loans, your repayment period will be extended between 10 and 30 years. This means you will make more payments and pay more in interest, unless you switch to a different student loan repayment plan.
Can make you lose some benefits: Consolidation can also cost you some benefits that only non-consolidated loans are eligible for, such as access to some loan cancellation options. It’s a good idea to check in with your loan program before opting for a Direct Consolidation Loan.
Can cause you to lose credit for payments toward loan forgiveness: One of the most important things to consider before consolidating student loans is that if you are currently paying your loans using an income-driven repayment plan or have already made qualifying payments toward PSLF, consolidating your loans will result in the loss of credit for payments already made toward loan forgiveness. However, there is now a one-time income-driven repayment account adjustment that allows borrowers to not lose credit from past payments if they choose to consolidate their loans.
How to Apply for a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan
The Direct Consolidation Loan application process is available through StudentLoans.gov and comes with no fees. You simply fill out the online application or you can print out a paper version and mail it. The entire online application process takes less than 30 minutes, on average.
Almost all federal student loans are eligible for consolidation. If you have private education loans, you cannot consolidate them with your federal loans. Also note that you can’t consolidate your loans while in school and must graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment in order to pursue consolidation. Parent PLUS Loans cannot be consolidated with loans in the student’s name.
You can also select which loans you do and do not want to consolidate on your loan application. For instance, if you have a loan that will be paid off in a short amount of time, you might consider leaving it out of the consolidation.
Remember to keep making payments on your loans during the application process until you are notified that they have been paid off by your new Direct Consolidation Loan. Your first new payment will be due within 60 days of when your Direct Consolidation Loan is paid out.
Repayment Plans for Consolidation Loans
A Direct Consolidation Loan will have a fixed interest rate that is the weighted average of all of the interest rates for the loans you are consolidating, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent. This means that the interest rate on your largest loan will have the most impact on your consolidation interest rate, whether that interest rate is high or low.
When you apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan, you must also be prepared to select a repayment plan. Many repayment plans are available for Direct Consolidation Loans, including:
• Standard Repayment Plan
• Graduated Repayment Plan
• Extended Repayment Plan
• Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE)
• Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE)
• Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR)
• Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)
Consolidation for Defaulted Student Loans
Consolidation can also help student loans that are currently in default. Student loans will go into default after 270 days without payment, which can result in consequences and loss of benefits, such as damaging your credit score or possible wage garnishment.
Since loans in default are accelerated and the entire unpaid balance becomes due when you enter default, consolidation is worth considering since it allows you to pay off one or more federal student loans with the new Direct Consolidation Loan.
Once your consolidated loan is out of default, you can repay the Direct Consolidation Loan under an income-driven repayment plan or make three consecutive payments. Direct Consolidation Loans are eligible for benefits such as student loan deferment, forbearance, and loan forgiveness.
Refinancing vs Consolidation for Student Loans
For those interested in a better interest rate or more favorable loan terms, you could consider refinancing your student loans instead of consolidating them. Unlike consolidation, refinancing can combine both federal student loans and private student loans into one new loan with one monthly payment.
Keep in mind that refinancing can result in the loss of federal benefits since you’re working with a private company and not the government. If you plan on using income-driven repayment plans or student loan forgiveness, for example, it is not recommended to refinance with a private lender. However, for someone looking for lower interest rates or lower monthly payments, refinancing is an option to consider.
A Direct Consolidation Loan combines your federal loans into one new loan with one monthly payment. Pros may include lowering your monthly payments, allowing you to switch from a variable to a fixed interest rate, and making certain loans eligible for forgiveness. The major con of Direct Consolidation Loans is possibly paying more in interest over the life of the loan due to the extension of your loan term.
If the idea of consolidation appeals to you but the weighted consolidation interest rate won’t save you much over the life of your loan, you could consider applying for student loan refinancing with SoFi. SoFi offers an easy online application, competitive rates, and flexible terms. But remember, refinancing makes it so you’re no longer eligible for federal benefits.
Student Loan Refinancing
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Please note that once you refinance federal student loans, you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans, such as the SAVE Plan, or extended repayment plans.
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